Late last year I was approached by a designer who needed development done of an adventure travel site. The company had been taken over by a new owner and they were keen to get the site updated, particularly as the office was about to move and they wanted to release the new site to coincide with updating everyone with the new address.
This was one of those jobs that ‘needed a very short turnaround’ and on the basis of my initial investigations into how long I thought the job would take I advised the designer that it would be at least three weeks. We agreed on that timeline and a I started getting to work. However, before I’d even got through a day’s work I received a call advising that we’d actually have to get the job done in two weeks…
This presentation will run through those things I learned in taking this job on… and getting it done in that short time frame … and hopefully will help me… and you… not end up in that same kind of desperate time crunch that we put ourselves through when working hard instead of smart – it’s all about learning from web project mistakes… mistakes I made so you don’t have to make them yourself…
- Don’t rely on the Project Manager/Designer to do all the ground work.
- Get into the details of the site and ask the questions, don’t just rely on the wireframes/PSDs
- Include discovery in your and make a prototype or prove the concepts – it will save you time later…
- Don’t listen to the “Hey… it’s just a simple site…” it may be… but prove it for yourself instead of believing what someone else says…
- If the expectations are unrealistic… walk away, just because you CAN do it in a really short time frame, doesn’t mean you should.
In this case, I was supplied with a fairly simplistic template layout and I didn’t do nearly enough digging into what was going to be required to pull of those template designs. AS it happened we found that we had 260 pages of content (the initial view indicated 150), each page having as many as 3 tabs, some of which had as many as 4 sub tabs… and each tab had its own content AND its own sidebars.
The problems for the client
- Static HTML site, impossibly difficult to update (previously using Dreamweaver)
- Old and tired look and feel.
The Problems for the me, the developer
- Way more content than they initially stated
- Already shortened timeline cut by a week
- Convoluted menu and huge numbers of pages
- Designer over promised, I was tasked to deliver – this was partially my fault, if I’d been as dilligent as I could have been there’s no way I’d have assented to the timeline… but when you’re under pressure and there’s a pay cheque in the offing… it’s easy to say yes and worry about the details later (don’t judge).
- No thought was given to restructuring content – they just redesigned the old site. This would have been the ideal. There’s way, way more content than is necessary, and managing it and keeping it up to date is going to be a challenge whichever way you slice it
The Plan to deal with the content (at its most basic)
- Use pages to organise the content
- Use Advanced Custom Fields for the Tabs and Sidebars
Happily, because of the short time and the sheer (increasing) volume of content the designer hired in a project manager/content editor; a VA in effect, who was tasked with getting all the static content into the site. Having a VA saved my sanity and meant I got to get some sleep at night (it probably meant she didn’t… um…)
This left me to concentrate on getting the site structures set up so she could go to work, and left me being able to focus what I’m best at. So work best to your skill set and get someone in to do the grunt work – your time is much better spent doing the stuff that’s tricky.
Outsource the really hard stuff to clever devs, because though the time taken to figure stuff out might be satisfying it’s going to waste time you don’t have (but make sure your clever friend has TIME to do what you need in your time frame… ) Trust your clever friend, hold off from calling them every five minutes… and if you’re the clever friend for someone… be honest, if you can’t do it, don’t say yes.
Prioritise – when you’re under time pressure… you have to know what you can do early on to help the rest of the team… get that done first.
First thing we did was bulk create the pages – and we used Bulk Page Creator plugin & Duplicate Post plugin to help get that done (duplicate post really helps the client, especially when they’re looking at a pretty complex page with multiple tabs/sub tabs – replacing a duplicated post’s content is easier than starting from scratch).
We prioritised setting up the Advanced Custom Fields – for Tabs/Sub Tabs/Sidebars – and then Brochures and Wallpaper so the VA could get to work. The VA was onto doing the content – even before the template was working
Getting the template built came later. As hard as it was to wait for the dev to show us a finished template, I trusted he’d achieve what we needed even though it was one of the last components to come together.
We went live with the site before the media queries were done. It was more important for the client to be able to see the site than to know it was working in mobile… and frankly the testing didn’t get done till after deployment either… at least not in the live environment… we were reasonably happy that it was working well in staging. (you’re getting the message that this was crazy, right?)
Talk to the community… take advice… you don’t know it all. I am lucky to have access to some pretty smart people, so in the process of making this work, particularly where it pertained to managing a menu with 250 items in it… and getting jquery behaviours happening on that menu… at least one of my ‘consultants’ suggested some plugins might help… truth is I don’t love a plugin page that’s looks like an 8yr old’s Christmas list… but in this case, plugins did all the things I needed and reduced a huge amount of angst trying to get code to work… these are the notable ones.
Gecka Submenu – adds in sub pages to the menu automagically – so instead of a Custom Menu with 250 items we have one main Tours menu with the top level continents on them, and the plugin adds all the other menu items in… and whenever the client creates a new tour and makes that continent the parent, the pages are added to the menu without the client having to do anything else.
jQuery Vertical Accordion Menu – builds behaviours into that ridiculously long menu… (whew).
Admin Collapse Subpages – makes the pages easier to manage in Admin – because of how extensive the content is we had to give a lot of consideration to how the client was going to manage.
Making those decisions, using other people’s tools left me free to focus on the HTML and CSS which is my favourite bit to work on and the thing I’m strongest at… so changing my tack to use those tools was a win all round.
What you’ve gained in this process can help others coming along behind you… Keep a backup of the site to refer back to… Keep notes in your job log book (you have one, right?) so you know what you learned, can come back to the code, tidy it up and reuse it. And share it with others (hence this presentation), we all have a lot to learn from each other.
When you get a call with another project wanting a really quick turn around?
Step quietly away from the computer…
Have at it in the comments… what’s the biggest web development lesson you’ve learned lately (that you’re not too proud to share… )
//This post was first delivered at a presentation for WordPress Melbourne Developer meet-up group April 16th 2014